Three J Properties holds ribbon cutting in Florence; business offers handyman services

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. – Three J Properties joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to hold a ribbon cutting Wednesday afternoon.

Three J Properties, a maintenance and repair company, offers a variety of services for both residential and commercial properties.

Joe Linder, owner of Three J Properties, said his favorite part about being a handyman is seeing his clients’ face when the job is completed.

“There are different personalities day to day,” Linder said. “No one person is the same, no one job is the same. I love seeing that finished result. Everyone has different things that they want, but always at the end they are like ‘wow’ and that makes it all worth it.”

Linder said the company does anything including repairs, renovation, refinishing and remodeling for both residential and commercial properties.

He said joining the chamber was a way to extend his company’s reach and let the Florence community know about the services his business offers.

Linder was joined by many family members, including his brother James and father, Joe Sr., who help with the business.

“I’m no better than anyone else, but I will work hard to make sure I get it right,” Linder said. “It’s awesome getting to work with my family. A lot of times, you have to choose between work and family. Through our business, we get to do both and I look forward to building relationships with people and letting them know about us in the Florence community.

For more information, contact Three J Properties at 843-615-2131.

FMU grows downtown Florence presence with building acquisition

FLORENCE, S.C. – Francis Marion University’s already significant presence in downtown Florence is set to grow again.

The City of Florence recently transferred ownership of the LS Rainwater Building at 142 North Dargan Street to the FMU Educational Foundation. FMU will begin work to transform the three-story structure into the new home of the Francis Marion University Kelley Center for Enterprise and Innovation and a first-floor art gallery to be curated by the FMU Department of Fine Arts with day-to-day management through the FMU Performing Arts Centers.

The Kelley Center will operate a business incubator for entrepreneurs and support the city of Florence with research for business recruitment. In its expanded role, the Kelley Center will provide critical assistance for business owners in the region. The art gallery will be curated and operated by the FMU Department of Fine Arts, with day-to-day management through the FMU Performing Arts Center.

The Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation will provide funding for the renovation of the building.

FMU President Fred Carter hailed yet another step in the university’s ongoing partnership with the city and with the revitalization of Florence’s downtown.

“The importance of the relationship between FMU and the city of Florence cannot be understated,” Carter said. “Collaborations between these two entities have led to new programs, new facilities and new achievements that continue to benefit the community and its people. The new, expanded Kelley Center, and this extraordinary art gallery will be terrific additions that will further enhance this tradition. And, as usual, our friends at the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation will help provide resources to make this happen. It’s a great partnership.”

Added Florence Mayor Stephen J. Wukela, “This project represents yet another example of the successful partnership between FMU, the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation and the city advancing the community.”

The Rainwater Building will be the university’s fifth downtown facility. FMU already has completed the FMU Performing Arts Center, the Luther F. Carter Center for Health Sciences and the FMU Recording Studio. Renovation work on the Old Post Office Building, which will be used for additional classroom space by the FMU School of Health Sciences, is set to begin soon.

The historic Rainwater building is a three-story, 17,000 square-foot building. The city obtained the building several years ago as part of its downtown revitalization plan, and has already invested in an initial phase of renovations on the first floor of the building.

A donation of $750,000 over a three-year period (2018, 2019, 2020) from the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation will allow the remaining renovations to be completed within a year.  When complete, the project will reflect a $2.7 million investment into downtown Florence.

The Kelley Center for Enterprise and Innovation has operated in downtown Florence since 2016, providing business incubation services, post-launch assistance, technical support and enterprise development aid to new and expanding businesses throughout the Pee Dee.

The facility formally will be owned by the Francis Marion University Education Foundation and operated by FMU.

The new art gallery will provide exhibition space for local artists across a spectrum of artistic disciplines to showcase their work. The gallery also will serve as another downtown event space.

Florence company offers all kinds of fencing work

FLORENCE, S.C. — Flat Out Fencing joined ambassadors with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday morning to hold a ribbon cutting.

Flat Out Fencing, a Florence-based company, does fencing of all kinds, including chain-link, wood, privacy or pickets, and gates, as well as repairs or demolition for both commercial and residential property.

Nicholas Hodges, who co-owns the company with his wife, Valentina, said the company began business in September 2017.

“Previously, I had worked with a guy who was a contractor for Lowes, Home Depot and Sears,” Nicholas said. “The last part before I left, they had me branching off of fencing and doing other housework and I really wanted to get back to doing fencing. I enjoy working outside and seeing the productivity of working with my hands.”

Valentina said that Nicholas is a perfectionist, which results in him making sure to put in the highest quality of work on each project he is assigned.

“Whatever he does, whether it be fencing or working with me in the house or anything else, he’ll redo it again and again to make sure he gets it right,” Valentina said. “For him, quality is important and he wants everything to look good.”

Nicholas was referred to the Chamber by a board member, Robby Hill, and said the networking opportunities will help grow his business.

He said the business is excited about its opportunities in the future and will look to provide its customers with the best quality and service.

“As a new company, we are trying to have the lowest price,” Nicholas said. “If a customer were to find a lower price, we would try our best not just to match it, but to beat it.”

For more information, contact Flat Out Fencing at 843-206-6922 or email The company also has a website at

Emerging Leaders Summer Institute Retreat

Participants in The Florence Chamber’s Emerging Leaders Summer Institute completed an Emerging Leaders Summit retreat at the Florence Chamber Wednesday.

The program was developed and facilitated by Gina Trimarco of Pivot 10 Results.

The program is designed to better acquaint leaders with our community, its opportunities and needs. Participants will develop new relationships among the participants and gain resources to help them provide continued leadership for our community.

The class will resume in July for its next session.

Florence Chamber’s Leadership 2018 graduates

The Florence Chamber’s Leadership Florence 2018 graduation ceremony took place at 6 p.m. on May 29th at the Floyd Conference Center on the campus of Carolinas Hospital System.
Leadership Florence is a comprehensive nine-month program designed to identify, cultivate and motivate new leadership for the Greater Florence area.
Participants increased their knowledge of the Greater Florence area, and enhanced their involvement in community activities while further developing their leadership skills. The nine-month program (one day a month from September through May) provides an in-depth look at private enterprise, government agencies, organizations, and individuals that make decisions affecting our county every day.
Individuals benefit from the Leadership Florence program in several ways, including: a comprehensive understanding of important community issues and organizations, a chance to meet with community leaders, increased leadership abilities, building a diverse network of informed colleagues and expanding contacts.
The 30-member graduating class held a Great Gatsby Gala earlier this month to raise money for local charities, including Lighthouse Ministries, All4Autism and House of Hope. At the graduation each of these non-profits was presented a check for $4,000. The Chambers Jr. Leadership Florence program, which consists of local high school sophomores and juniors and mirrors the Leadership Florence model, also received a check for $1,000.
The graduation speaker was Carl Humphries, CEO of Hope Health.
Leadership Florence Class of 2018: Aaron Robinson, Honda of South Carolina Mfg., Inc., Ali Parker, ADP, Andrea Kiester, Duke Energy, Angela K. Jacobs, Florence School District One, Barbara Merrill, Health Facilities Federal Credit Union, Brianna Dennis, Francis Marion University, Chad Collins, Florence County Sheriff’s Office, Crystal Stroud, My Realtor Group, David McBride, Florence-Darlington Technical College, David Boulware, First Reliance Bank, Hannah E. Parker, OTIS Elevator Company, Henry Duffee, Nationwide Insurance – The Hoylen Agency, Jane Comfort, Morning News, Jerry Dudley, City of Florence, Jordan Lutz, Carolina Bank, Julie Jebaily, Jebaily Properties, INC., Karen Belissary, New Generations, Kim Culberson, Florence County Economic Development Partnership, Lauren Vause, Junior League of Florence Lauren Kremidas, Edward Jones-Lauren Kremidas, Laurin Burch, Pepsi Cola of Florence LLC, Levi James, Jr, Florence County Emergency Management Department, Patrick Ford, Finklea Law Firm, Sallie Bachman, HopeHealth, Shametra Swaringer, Carolinas Hospital System, Stephen Harding, HillSouth, Todd Hightower, Carolinas Hospital System, Tracie Foster, McLeod Health, Veronica Peoples, Florence County Emergency Management Department, Zach Hearne, Signature Wealth Strategies.

Starbucks plans new location in Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Starbucks officials said Wednesday that the company would be expanding its reach in Florence with a new store.

The company, based in Seattle, Washington, now has three locations in Florence: one with a full-service drive-thru at W. Palmetto Street, one inside McLeod Health Hospital and one inside Target at David H. McLeod Boulevard.

Starbucks will expand to the south side of town with a location at Pamplico Highway across the street from Carolinas Hospital. The new store will be a full-service drive-thru.

The coffee shop will be part of a four-store development by the Shopping Center Group. Starbucks will take up a space of 2,274 square feet. According to records, Firehouse Subs will join Starbucks with a 1,738-square-foot spot. Two remaining spaces, one at 5,230 square feet and one at 1,392 square feet, are available for retail.

“Starbucks is always looking for great locations to better meet the needs of our customers,” a Starbucks representative said.

Officials said the new Starbucks plans to open this winter.

On Tuesday, May 29, Starbucks closed more than 8,000 stores across the nation, including the one on West Palmetto Street, in an effort to train employees and reflect on the realities of bias in society.

The decision was made after an incident in which a Starbucks manager in Philadelphia called the police a few minutes after two black men arrived at a store and sat waiting for a friend. When police were called, the men had not yet purchased anything. They were arrested after police arrived at the store.

“May 29 was a day of open and honest conversation starting with our partners,” a Starbucks representative said. “Our decision to close stores for racial bias learning and education was sparked by Philadelphia, so we wanted to engage in race first. Over the next months and years, we will go into different forms of bias by adding more learning sessions on understanding bias, inclusion, use of the third place and leadership among other topics.”

Officials said that Starbucks will be attending a meeting this summer, hosted by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in an effort to take the next steps toward understanding how to address other forms of bias and how companies can best implement these lessons.

Starbucks offers more than 30 blends and single-origin premium coffees, fresh-brewed coffee, hot and iced espresso beverages, Frappuccino coffee and noncoffee blended beverages, such as Starbucks Refreshers beverages, smoothies and teas.

Heating and Cooling company expands from Ohio to Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Russell Christian, co-owner of Best Service Heating and Cooling Inc., pulled a marble out of his pocket with an inscription on it: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He said that was the adage his company operates by.

Best Service Heating and Cooling Inc., at 1838 Habersham Square, Suite E, joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday afternoon to celebrate its grand opening with a ribbon cutting.

Russell, who co-owns the company with his wife, Cookie, said he has operated the business for more than 40 years with a location in Columbus, Ohio. After many accolades, including BBB Accreditation in 2014 and being named a 15-time Super Service Award winner by Angie’s List, the Christians looked to expand their business to South Carolina.

“We were looking to increase our footprint and extend our summer,” Russell said. “We were looking for a place that had a good, long summer and we looked all through South Carolina. Every time we came back to Florence, we just felt at home.”

His wife echoed his sentiments.

“Everybody’s been so friendly and welcoming,” Cookie Christian said. “We’re not used to that being, from Ohio, and we just really like it here. Everything is so close and we really like the accessibility.”

Leon Holden was named the operations manager for the Florence location. Russell said he believes that Leon has the knowledge and skill to perform the job effectively.

Best Services Heating and Cooling Inc. provides an array of services, including furnace and air condition repair, installation, heat pump repair, duct cleaning, and more.

“What we bring to the table is that we live what we say,” Russell said. “We’re a Christian-based company and we look to truly serve the community. Once you use our company, you’ll see that we really mean what we say.”

Russell said joining the chamber was also a way for the company to become involved in the Florence community.

“We like living and being a part of the community,” Russell said. “We all deal with big ‘no face’ companies from time to time. What we are big on is doing one-on-one business where we get to talk to people, show them our product and explain to them how they can make their products last longer. Our theory is that if we show customers how to save money, they will come to us when they need us. I don’t want the quick service; we want the long-term customer.”

For more information about Best Service Heating and Cooling, contact 843-314-2378 or visit its website at

Leadership Florence knits bonds


FLORENCE, S.C. – Leadership Florence celebrated the program’s 30 graduates with a ceremony on Tuesday evening at the Floyd Conference Center.

The nine-month leadership program helps build relationships among class members as well as connect participants to other leaders in the community, said Les Echols, director of community and minority enterprise at the chamber.

Stephen Harding, Leadership Florence graduate and HillSouth employee, said he has lived in Florence for 30 years, but Leadership Florence exposed him to many new individuals and opportunities in the community.

“It introduced me to so many new things that we have right here in our backyard that I just couldn’t believe I was blind to for that amount of time,” Harding said.

Each month of the program has a different theme such as health care or government.

Barbara Merrill, Leadership Florence graduate and Health Facilities Credit Union employee, said that for her Ride a Mile in my Shoes was the program’s most meaningful session. During the event, Leadership Florence participants rode public transportation. Merrill said she observed passengers who were riding a bus to stay warm or did not know if they had enough money for their next ride.

“We take for granted transportation, food that we know we’re going to eat, and they’ve got to figure out how they are going to get from point A to point B,” Merrill said.

Merrill and other graduates said that because of Leadership Florence they feel more aware of their community’s needs and empowered to invest in their community.

This year’s Leadership Florence class held a Great Gatsby-themed ball earlier this month to raise money for several local organizations.

During the Leadership Florence graduation, class officers made check presentations to House of Hope, Lighthouse Ministries, All 4 Autism and Junior Leadership Florence County.

Lauren Vause, Leadership Florence graduate and Junior League of Florence member, received the Outstanding Participant Award from this year’s Leadership Florence class. Each year, class members vote on who they think should receive the award.

To date, more than 1,000 people have completed the Leadership Florence program. Mike Miller, chamber president, said participants usually begin the program with hesitancy but end with lasting professional relationships.

Carl Humphries, CEO of HopeHealth, was the graduation speaker. Humphries participated in Leadership Florence during the 2002-03 program. He attributed much of the expansion of HopeHealth to the relationships he made through Leadership Florence.

Open house brings hundreds to downtown Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine, Moring News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Hundreds of Pee Dee residents visited downtown Florence Thursday evening to “shop, dine and unwind.”

In partnership with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce and many downtown businesses, the Downtown Development Corporation hosted a “Downtown Open House” that gave residents a chance to see the changes and progress in the downtown area.

Bob Sager, retail recruitment specialist with the Florence Downtown Development Corporation, said the event was a way to bring awareness of what’s going on downtown.

“We had an event similar to this a couple of years ago and it went really well,” Sager said. “We decided it was time to do it again. Back then, we had a lot of businesses opening and, since, we’ve had a lot more open. I think it’s a good thing for everybody.”

Each attendee of the event arrived at the chamber and was given a “passport” to take to each participating location. At the locations, they had their passport stamped and checked out what each store had to offer. After completing their passport, participants returned them to any restaurant to be entered to win $250 cash.

The first 100 attendees received a free Downton Florence tote bag filled with items from downtown shops and restaurants. Several attendees also won retail gift cards for downtown businesses.

Mike Miller, president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, said he expects even greater things to happen downtown in the future.

“It’s important to everybody in the community,” Miller said. “So much happens downtown. Within a week, two weeks, things change. It’s amazing what it’s going to be in six months. Some of these stores are doing quite well and people still don’t know about many of them. Any opportunity to help with the Downtown Development folks, the chamber is right on it as we would with anyone else. We’re celebrating the growth of downtown and we’re nowhere near the end.”

Sager said that he has organized groups with the downtown businesses. Through that, he said, he learned that many people are visiting downtown that haven’t been in years.

Sager said there could be plans in the near future for retail shops to stay open later one night a week.

“There are still a lot of people in Florence that haven’t been downtown,” Sager said. “We want our businesses to say that they’re meeting new customers. Events like these are really a great way to showcase what downtown has to offer. Downtown is a place you can go to shop, dine and unwind.”

Lutheran Services helps children, families involved in foster care

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — The Pee Dee branch of Lutheran Services Carolinas joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning to hold a ribbon cutting.

Lutheran Services Carolinas is a nonprofit health and human service organization and social ministry in both South and North Carolina. The organization provides foster care, as well as training and support to those transitioning out of foster care.

Michele Thomson, regional manager, said the mission of the organization is to serve children and families in South Carolina.

“We get referrals from all over the state for kids that are in need of foster care and we can’t place them,” Thomson said. “We have kids that are sitting in DSS offices overnight. They’re having to pay for hotel rooms for kids to stay in- with supervision of course- because they don’t have a foster home to go to.”

Thomson said the licensing process is tough and many kids have a hard time finding a good fit, especially as they grow older.

“It’s tough to find good matches with homes and parents that understand what this child has been through, but still are willing to give it a chance and try to help them work through those issues,” Thomson said. “We want to train and license those foster parents and help the kids.”

Though the organization is partnered with the Lutheran Church, a foster parent or volunteer does not have to be Lutheran. All foster parents are provided training with support groups and are provided 24/7 supervision with a lead clinical specialist. A recruiter will assist a family in the process to become licensed and compensation is provided at a daily rate for the child placed in a foster home.

Thomson said her passion for helping with foster kids comes from her own child.

“I have a child of my own,” Thomson said. “She’s 15 and I look at her every day and I look at her life and I compare it. When I look at these kids, I look at them having those same possibilities if we can put some things in place for them to get there. These kids are our future.”

Jean Keefe, director of transitional living, said she is designing a program for young adults exiting foster care from the ages of 18 to 21 that will start in October.

“They can stay in foster care until they’re 21,” Keefe said. “Many of them come to us as teenagers and they’ve been moved from home to home and by the time they get to us, they’re tired of it and they just want to be done. After 18, they have to sign themselves back into foster care, but some of them are so tired of it, they quit and, unfortunately, many of them end up homeless. I’ve put together a program called the ‘after care program.’ Basically, we try to find them housing, get funding for them to go to college if that’s what they want, help them find jobs. Whatever they see as a need for themselves, that’s what we try to help with.”

Keefe said that foster parents are asked to become an advocate for the child and provide a safe and nurturing living environment for them.

“I started out in DSS and back then people were just starting to think about preparing these kids for independent living when they leave foster care,” Keefe said. “I just watched kids make mistakes and it’s just a passion for me to get them off the street and to truly be able to help them.”

For more information on how to get involved or become a foster parent, contact Amy McColl at 843-487-7225 or email her at